“Out of the depths I cry to you, Oh Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” Psalm 130:1-4
In 1523, Martin Luther wrote to a friend, George Spalatin. Luther’s letter asked for Spalatin’s assistance in writing hymns that could be sung by the people in their common language, German. Luther wrote: “Now since you are so skillful and eloquent in German, I would like to ask you to work with us in this and to turn a Psalm into a hymn as in the enclosed sample of my own work.” (LW 53:221)
Luther’s sample hymn was based upon Psalm 130. It appears in a variety of present-day hymnals, including “Lutheran Service Book,” hymn #607. The hymn’s title, “From Depths of Woe I cry to Thee,” borrows from Psalm 130:1.
The hymn expresses the Christian’s prayer in the midst of trial and tribulation. It is resolute, firmly trusting that God will listen to His people. Sins are confessed. God’s love, His grace and mercy alone are the object of the believer’s faith. The hymn is honest in that it does not sugar-coat troubles that at time cause us great distress. It is also hopeful and encouraging as it sets the believers faith upon the true God who hears our prayers and answers them.
The hymn became a favorite at Christian funerals and was sung at Luther’s funeral in 1546.
The hymn concludes this way:
“Though great our sins, yet greater still
Is God’s abundant favor;
His hand of mercy never will
Abandon us, nor waver.
Our shepherd good and true is He,
Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.”